Downtown Stakeholders Rescind Support for Safe Rest Village, Citing City’s Refusal to Screen Residents

As many as nine neighborhood associations say their support is conditional on three demands.

A coalition of neighborhood associations, private school leaders and homeowner associations in downtown Portland this morning rescinded their support for one of the city’s planned tiny-pod “safe rest villages.”

The group cited the city’s refusal to implement a screening process for village residents that would weed out tenants with felony convictions for such offenses as sex crimes, arson and assault. It presented the city with two other demands that the group says were rejected this week: a 1,000-foot buffer prohibiting tent camping around the village, and the formation of a village advisory group.

In February, WW reported that two leaders of schools within 100 feet of the village—Bodo Heiliger of the Portland International School and Beven Byrnes of Bridges Middle School—were leading the downtown coalition in making its demands, which have been revised a handful of times over the past six months.

At a press conference held today near the International School on a patch of muddy grass, the two school leaders said their demands had been directly rejected by the city this week. About 25 people showed up for the announcement. Both leaders said they were disappointed the city did not meet their demands, and that they had wanted to welcome the village.

Heiliger said City Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office had promised when the site was first announced that residents would go through a basic screening process similar to what any renter would. But the city and county informed the coalition this week that those screenings would not be conducted. Heiliger and Byrnes described a virtual meeting with officials from the city, county and the Joint Office of Homeless Services to discuss the group’s demands. They were all shot down, they said.

And it appears that the downtown group is not the only village coalition that’s demanding such promises from the city and county: Heiliger said his group had been working for the past month with nine other neighborhood associations and four local groups in close proximity to proposed villages to come up with a shared template for a “good neighbor agreement” to present to the Joint Office, which is choosing organizations to manage each village. All the other neighborhood associations have unofficially agreed to the same three demands, Heiliger said.

The neighborhood associations and other groups representing neighbors surrounding the future villages are being led by Stan Penkin, president of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association.

“We’re tired and we’re done,” Heiliger said, visibly emotional at the press conference. He told WW later: “We had a true desire to create a welcoming environment for the villagers. We’re gutted and disappointed and saddened.”

It’s unclear, however, whether stakeholder pushback will have any effect on the opening of the downtown village—though it seems unlikely, since opposition has done little so far to deter the city’s pursuit of the project.

The patch of land in question, at 2300 SW Naito Parkway, will serve as the relocation spot for the Queer Affinity Village that was displaced from the inner eastside earlier this year by development. Just last week, Ryan’s office placed 30 pods on the site. The off-white pods could be seen from the press conference held today, and residents will begin moving in next week.

In a lengthy statement, Commissioner Ryan offered strong comments this afternoon in response to the group’s rejection of the village.

“I am deeply concerned that the [group] chose to stoke fear regarding sexual orientation by targeting the Queer Affinity Village, and I stand by my conviction that Villages will make communities safer,” Ryan said, adding that “criminal history screening is not part of any of our publicly funded shelters. That does not, however, invalidate any potential parole and probation requirements, nor does it mean relaxing rules and expectations around conduct.”

The group hit back at the implication that its objections were rooted in homophobia. “We find this accusation from Commissioner Ryan insulting and factually incorrect, and once again, he is not hearing our concerns,” the Naito group said in a statement to WW. “We have requested background checks from day one, long before the [village] was determined to be the new home of the Queer Affinity Village.”

Heiliger and Byrnes said legal action was not currently on the table if the city moves forward with the village. However, sources tell WW that talk of legal action has sprung up in various village discussions not specific to the Naito site.

The Naito site was first announced eight months ago. The safe rest village project, led by Ryan, is now a year old but has yet to house anyone. Ryan recently told WW to expect three villages operating by Labor Day.